Today, people demand transparency and authenticity from the brands they trust. And it’s a bad idea for a business to get behind a cause or activity that doesn’t align with its brand values.
Anyone who talks the talk needs to walk the walk, both internally and externally. Here are five considerations that can help as you determine how your company should navigate its involvements and communications in what can seem like a cancel-happy culture.
1) Know your audience
Heritage or pride months can be tempting as vehicles for social media engagement, but simply jumping onto a hashtag bandwagon can alienate customers and employees if it doesn’t resonate deeply with those groups. Know what your key audiences will and won’t stand behind.
Bud Light and parent company Anheuser-Busch experienced a boycott from some of their conservative customers following a sponsorship with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. It started with a simple gift of Bud Light to Mulvaney, who then published a video on her Instagram with it. But the backlash has resulted in an onslaught of messages from politicians, celebrities and social media users condemning the relationship and promising to give up Bud Light.
Meanwhile, the response from Anheuser-Busch has been labeled by its more progressive customers as “tepid” and evidence that the company was only focused on selling more beer.
What would have helped Anheuser-Busch stay connected to its consumers while embracing diversity? The company could have shown support for LGBTQ+ in smaller, more community-driven ways before pursuing an influencer with a wide reach. The beverage brand’s move seemed like a large, bold step that jarred its core consumers without a history of support. A series of micro-involvements could have allowed Anheuser-Busch to test its approach and set a foundation of support before taking a widely visible position.
2) Be consistent in brand values
Consistently using brand values as a guidepost helps companies find and retain customers. It becomes a unifying factor for customers who want to share the same values as the brands they frequent.
Patagonia’s sales skyrocket alongside its visceral commitment to environmental and progressive causes. Ben & Jerry’s leans hard into its quirky New England independence to support social causes through sales and activism. Immigrant-founded yogurt-maker Chobani donates millions of dollars to immigrant and refugee–focused organizations. These companies see these actions as intrinsic to their identity, and they can and will back them up.
On the flip side, being inconsistent in showing your brand values chips away at customers’ trust and could cause customers to walk away. Also, a major or sudden shift in values can cause distrust from core customers.
3) Face the feedback
People have opinions and many channels to share them. When something doesn’t fit their worldview, many are quick to say so. Brands’ actions are challenged all the time, and it’s vital to be transparent about why you are communicating and to make it obvious that you are taking customers’ feedback into account.
Etsy has been the go-to platform for buying and selling handmade and vintage goods since its founding in 2005 — or it was, before a decision to increase seller fees by 30 percent impelled Etsy’s community of makers to strike. Article after article and viral social media posts, unified by the #EtsyStrike hashtag, laid out how these fee changes could make it impossible for some sellers to support themselves.
Etsy executives responded to the uproar in the media, reiterating how the increased prices would help them reinvest in key areas of their community. But that messaging didn’t directly address what sellers were experiencing and left both them and buyers reevaluating their loyalty to the brand.
4) Set measurable goals
A brand value needs to be more than a statement; it needs to include actions and goals. How you communicate those goals can make all the difference in whether your audience will believe them. Using specific, measurable objectives in your communications is vital.
IKEA is one of the largest consumers of wood in the world, but has also made a commitment to sustainability, and to consider the footprint it leaves. Critics note that this is a difficult balancing act when IKEA is also driven by the need to make a profit.
The company has integrated a directive toward sustainability from both the top down and the bottom up. It devotes portions of its website and even individual product pages to explaining how IKEA moves the needle on environmental and cost-saving matters. By 2030, it plans to be 100 percent “circular” by creating zero waste through recycling and repurposing programs, and explains the benchmarks necessary to create that impact. Making these commitments feels genuine and should pay off for the company over time.
5) Know when to plant your flag (and when not to)
There will be times when a brand will need to defend its values against a tremendous outcry. But sometimes a compromise will serve everyone better. Addressing a challenge to your foundational values requires deliberate consideration, using brand values as a guide to decide what you’re willing to fight for. And if you decide to plant your flag, tying that decision to your values will contribute to a powerful rallying cry.
Since Disney has stated that it will try to help reverse Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, lawmakers have enacted legislation on everything from copyright law to Disney World’s self-governance status. But Disney now has the opportunity to reframe its role in the local, state and national imagination. There has already been a series of legal battles and reputational mudslinging, but it could result in Disney becoming a leader in cultural conversations.
Organizations, people or businesses can’t make everyone happy with every decision. Companies rooted in brand values will better weather the storm when their values are authentically part of how they run their business.
B2 can help examine your brand strategy and approach to communications at any point in your business’ lifetime. These values are a lens through which you filter your approach to business, partnerships, community involvement and growth. When you’re clear and consistent in communicating those brand values, knowing what to do next can be much simpler.